Saturday, January 3, 2009

Revolutionary Road: The Cuts Get Deeper

Perhaps the cliched reminder that Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet were in Titanic together is unnecessary. Perhaps. But they were, and that makes this movie sort of a big deal. I actually hated Titanic, and as such I just imagine that had the two lovers survived the sinking ship this movie would be a recounting of how their lives would have turned out. Skillfully acted, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins (the man can do no wrong!), and paced just the way Sam Mendes knows how to do it (think Road to Perdition with less guns), if you give it your full attention, this film is, to say the least, earth-shaking.

Adapted from the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road takes place in the 50's and tells the story of Frank and April; two people who, like all eventually married couples, put their best and wittiest feet forward when then first meet. Before we get used to the superficialities, however, we are whisked into the future where the couple has two kids and a marriage that is on the rocks. Frank is having an affair with a young secretary from work (a job which he hates) whom he has convinced he is of some importance around the office. Meanwhile April is a housewife with a wandering spirit who yearns to fulfill the dreams of her youth. She cries over the kitchen sink and fears her whole future will be spent performing repetitive tasks cleaning house and caring for her children.

One night, April conceives of a brilliant idea. If they would only move to Paris, she could work as a secretary and he could find out who he really is, trying jobs that are more suited to him or doing whatever it is Parisians do all day (probably eating cheese and drinking alcohol; YES!). He agrees, and soon they are both walking with lighter steps, telling their friends of the plan, and otherwise living a liberated life.

April soon discovers she is pregnant, and Frank is convinced that Paris will never happen. He is soon drawn into his job, and his reluctance to follow through on their plan becomes obvious. When Frank discovers April is desperate enough to make their dream happen that she would attempt an abortion on herself, everything hits the fan, and worlds collide.

I will not go any further and spoil the remainder of the film, but I can at least say that I have never seen a more brutal, violent fight between two selfish sinners. They manage to tear each other to shreds without laying a hand on one another.

A few random thoughts about the movie come to mind.

1. It is refreshing to see an unglorified presentation of an affair in a movie. Frank's affair with the secretary from work is, to say the least, unfulfilling, shameful, and full of superficialities which have to be kept up while he's at work. After his first rendezvous with her, he comes home late to an smiling, apologetic wife and two children singing "Happy Birthday" over a beautiful cake. Few things are as haunting to me as seeing Frank's smile being forced through a veil of tears by birthday candle light.

2. The issue of abortion is prominent in the film. April clearly views an abortion as the solution to the entire dilemma. But if she kills her baby, she believes she will be telling the world that her children are a burden ("a punishment?" Frank suggests at one point). The issue of the morality of such a thing is the elephant in the room, but it is not an obvious obstacle to the Wheelers. Clearly they are pragmatists who are torn between doing what they want and becoming the kind of people they will despise when it's all said and done. I wouldn't be surprised if some people view this movie as a toned down "Cider House Rules" where once again the argument that "back-alley abortions will resume if Roe v Wade is ever overturned" comes out again. I never got the impression the abortion is the heart of the film, however.

3. The real point which I took away from the film is that selfishness and marriage are totally incompatible. Frank and April are two sinners who are selfish through and through, with different dreams, different ambitions, and no moral compass (except perhaps the opinions of those in their social circles) to tie them together. I'm going to take the Christian Hedonist approach and point out that their affections are all wrong. If they would make the happiness of their partner the ultimate goal, then things would change entirely. The fact is, however, April's happiness does not fulfill Frank. Frank is looking out for number one while April is doing the same thing. Rather than sacrifice her dreams for her children, she would rather kill her unborn.

4. The Wheelers' lunch with John Givings, the neighbors' mentally ill son, is proabably my favorite collision of personalities in the history of film (except for probably the ending of "There Will Be Blood"). Listening to him explain exactly how he sees through all their appearances brought such an grin of revelation to my face; I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite as remarkable as watching him pick apart Frank until he finally explodes at him, losing all pretense and appearances of normallcy.

5. I consider Shep Campbell to be the most pitiable character in the entire movie; second only to his wife. Pay attention to his storyline and tell me you don't feel for him and for his wife.

After such a well-acted, excellently shot, perfectly paced film, I don't know if I can watch anything else for a very long time. I hope Kate Winslet wins best actress, I hope Roger Deakins wins for best cinematography, and I hope Sam Mendes wins for best director. I highly recommend the film; however, because of language and some brief sexuality I don't think I'd take the little tykes.

FRANK: That's the point; you're not crazy, and you do love me!

APRIL: But I don't. I hate you. You were just some boy who made me laugh at a party once, and now I loathe the sight of you.

And the cuts only get deeper.


  1. Fantastic review!! Saw the preview last night at Benjamin Buttons. Love to see your review of that movie as well. It says a lot about marriage and faithfulness (to spouse and child) that I think most people miss.

    Hope your Revolutionary Road review gets lots of buzz. It is an example of how to review a movie as a Christian. Thank you.

  2. I'm actually sitting on a couple of reviews right now: one for Benjamin Button and one for Slumdog Millionaire; I just didn't want to put them all up at once. I loved all 3 of them, and I'm not sure which is my favorite.

  3. To my mind the best film which was presented on The 81st Oscars ceremony is Slumdog Millionaire. I can watch this film many times.


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